Boris Johnson’s attempt to draw a line under the sleaze row dogging the Conservative Party was blocked yesterday by one of his own MPs.
Two weeks after voting against the suspension of their colleague Owen Paterson, who was found guilty of paid lobbying by the standards watchdog, ministers last night tried to reverse the decision in Parliament without a vote.
But it appears that one “diehard” Tory grandee remains “unbowed”, said The Spectator’s Steerpike. “Step forward Sir Christopher Chope, the veteran MP for Christchurch, and no stranger to political controversy.”
Chope, a “long-time member of the Tory awkward squad who specialises in filibustering parliamentary bills”, was “back winning friends and influence” yesterday after yelling “Object!” to the government motion to U-turn on Paterson, said Steerpike.
In “a deeply embarrassing move for the prime minister”, the objection meant Parliament had to hold a full debate on the issue today, said The Guardian.
“Fury from Tories exploded at the issue being prolonged,” said the paper. An unnamed minister called Chope a “Jurassic embarrassment” who “should retire”. A frontbencher told the paper that Chope was a “selfish twat”, while the shadow Commons leader, Thangam Debbonaire, said the “farce was of the Tories’ own making”.
The U-turn motion finally passed this afternoon, rescinding the original amendment from 3 November, which helped Paterson avoid suspension and paved the way for a new committee for standards. Chope was said to have wound up colleagues once again by refusing to give way during the debate, where he defended Paterson, who has resigned over the scandal.
Chope has “a history of controversial interventions in parliament”, said James Tapsfield, political editor for the Daily Mail.
The Tory’s attempts to block bills on upskirting in 2018 and female genital mutilation in 2019 prompted outcries from within his party. Tom Tugendhat, chair of the Commons Foreign Select Committee, called his intervention on the upskirting bill “really objectionable”, while fellow Conservative Paul Masterton said party members were “furious”.
Chope “usually targets legislation proposed by backbenchers, complaining that it is not properly debated and too politically correct – although in this instance he might have been supporting his friend Mr Paterson”, wrote Tapsfield.
Indeed, Chope outlined his arguments for defending Paterson earlier this month in an article published in the Daily Express. Today, he said he was “delighted” to have forced a debate on the matter. “We can’t pass motions and rescind them without proper debate – the process is absolutely fundamental to the issue of natural justice,” he told the Commons.
The i news site noted back in 2018 that Chope was a “fierce critic” of private members bills, which are put forward by MPs or peers who are not in government and can be passed without debate unless someone objects.
He “has made a name for himself by frequently blocking the bills, often tabled on Fridays, including many that have widespread public support”, such as a posthumous pardon for Second World War code-breaker Alan Turing and a debate on the Hillsborough disaster, said the paper.
His latest intervention – which “torpedoes” the Paterson U-turn – prompted a “despairing cry of ‘Wow’ from one masked member” yesterday, said The Spectator’s Steerpike, which predicted that there would be a “few choice words for Chope in the Commons tearoom” today.